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Add Self-Awareness to Your Change Management Toolkit

By Stuart Childs

Add Self-Awareness to Your Change Management Toolkit

By Stuart Childs

It’s disconcerting when your organization is averse to change. It becomes altogether threatening when the ripple effect of your organization’s don’t-move-my-cheese attitude negatively impacts innocent bystanders.

I recently returned from a client’s office where we were working on an organization-wide transformation project to reform a variety of crucial processes. This client’s ability to execute has ramifications at both the local and state level. Put simply, their willingness to implement reform strategies will impact the social and political landscape in their area for years to come.

Given that context, it became important for me to understand how the majority of the organization would receive change initiatives. When pressed for insight, my contact shared the following:

“The 2 biggest complaints I hear are:

1) We hate things how they are, and

2) We don’t want anything to change.”

On its face, the binarily opposed comment paints a bleak outlook of the odds of creating lasting change.

If you look further, however, the client had taken an important step towards realizing their desired outcomes. Knowing what roadblocks to expect is a huge, necessary step in any change management process – so you can prepare to overcome them.

The number one item you need in your change management toolkit is self-awareness. In order to become fully adept at change and able to sustain the introduction of newness over time, you must start first with nurturing a culture that prioritizes self-awareness.

Create a Self-Aware Culture

Perhaps no single quality is as important to long-term change as being self-aware. On every scale, from a personal change to an enterprise transformation, the process must begin with an introspective, honest, reality check, and include check-ins along the way.

In the case of my client, while her comments didn’t seem encouraging, she had informed me the organization was coming into our efforts with their eyes wide open. And – as we all know – the first step on the road to reform is admitting you know the reality of your current situation.

Along the same lines as vulnerability and candor in the workplace, the honest knowledge of where you’re at and the clear definition of where you’d like to end up is necessary. Unfortunately, you can’t just tell everybody to “be self-aware,” and it happens. It’s a scale that teeters between caustic skepticism and obnoxious optimism – and it takes lots of practice to hit it right in the middle.

Ditch the Rose-Colored Glasses

So with this client, we knew that:

  1. They don’t like the state they’re in.
  2. Change is the enemy.

Most of my clients are willing to accept the criticism of the first statement but reject the stubbornness of the second. Too many of them underestimate the innate aversion their teams will have to change.

While it can be encouraging in the short-term, the attitude of, “We love change!” can prove detrimental in the long run simply because the client has failed to assess the dig-your-heels-in power of the status quo. In these cases, it’s common that the client faces a silent underground rebellion. One that nods with approval in rah-rah kickoff meetings but cultivates resistance over lunch.

Sometimes over-adjusting by screaming, “We love change!” from the rooftops is the business equivalent of someone telling you your new hack-job haircut makes you look like J. Lo. You know it doesn’t, they know it doesn’t, and the rejection of shared reality just makes it hurt worse.

To help game plan your navigation of the feelings associated with change, check out this article that maps the change management cycle onto the grief cycle – and whoa, are they similar. Add this to your change management toolkit as well.

Gain Trust by Promoting Your Shared Reality

The good news is that while a blind eye will create resistance, an honest assessment can overcome it.

When team members feel like leadership has fallen out of touch with their reality, they shut down instead of being forthcoming with ideas and feedback. They’ll simply wait for the change initiatives to lose momentum and go away entirely – and they will, if you don’t have their trust.

However, by accurately addressing the current attitudes of the organization, you prove to your team that you understand their stance and you can begin to create the culture that sustains change.

This client showed her team that she knew exactly what was going on and what challenges lay ahead for them. They started this journey in the same universe, on the same page, and are committed to reaching the same North Star. By sharing that reality with me – we were able to enter into our process armed with our change management toolkit, fully aware of what we’re working with and ready to tackle it all.

About AchieveIt

AchieveIt is the platform that large organizations use to get their biggest, most important initiatives out of the boardroom and into reality. Too many great ideas never quite make it across the finish line, because there’s no real way to keep everyone on course and keep everything on track. What does it take to actually guide these initiatives all the way through to completion? You’ve got to:

  1. Get everything in view – so you can see what’s happening with every initiative, at every level, from the enterprise to the individual, in real time.
  2. Get everyone engaged – with an easy-to-use platform that connects your organization from the executive leadership to the project teams, keeping everyone accountable and on the same page.
  3. Get every possible advantage – not only because you have the premier platform in this space, but because you can draw on the experience and best practices of our execution experts.

That’s why everyone from global corporations, to regional healthcare systems, to federal agencies have turned to AchieveIt for their Integrated Plan Management. Let’s actually do this.


Use Commander’s Intent to Empower Your Team for Execution

By Stuart Childs

Use Commander’s Intent to Empower Your Team for Execution

By Stuart Childs

By far, one of the most common execution challenges our clients ask for help with is, “What’s the right level of insight and direction I need to give and receive from my team?”

In other words, how can teams get the most flexibility to decide and execute quickly, while being sure they’re acting in the interest of the intended goal?

In a leadership position, you’re constantly balancing informative oversight against inefficient micromanagement. Without a clear sense of how much direction is necessary, your planning process and subsequent success of your organization can quickly come to a standstill.

If you’re stuck in the philosophical loop – What is the right level of managerial insight? How do I ensure my team is on the right track while giving them the space they need to make decisions and execute on their objectives? – try incorporating some of the key elements of this leadership principle.

Commander’s Intent for Plan Execution

When trying to find your identity as a strategic plan leader, consider the principle of Commander’s Intent.

Borrowed from the military, Commander’s Intent has been relied upon for decades as the go-to framework for military operations. The concept, however, is equally applicable in the business world.

Essentially, the methodology relies on establishing a clearly defined end-state, i.e. if everything goes perfectly, what will our world look like?

From there, teams are dispatched to set about accomplishing smaller tasks to achieve the end-state with limited direction.

The focus on the goal ensures teams have guidance in their work but autonomy to be experts in their field enough to make real-time decisions along the way.

It’s obviously something that takes time and a lot of trust-building to transform your execution culture into a strong Commander’s Intent operational model. But in the meantime, start by assessing how well you currently embody each of the 3 key elements of Commander’s Intent, then build from there.

Use “Expanded Purpose” to Paint the Whole Long-term Picture

Expanded Purpose: The broader vision of what accomplishing this objective means to the organization as a whole.

Even the military, an organization that thrives on hierarchical chain of command, understands that foot soldiers are more effective when they understand the why behind the what.

Share with your team why you’re held accountable to your metrics and milestones, and draw a direct line from daily activities to organization-wide progress.

Example: We’re asked to track our time on projects so the company can collect data about where we’re stretched thin for resources. The Expanded Purpose of time tracking is so we can hire the right people with the right skills to increase productivity.

Related article: Engage in Continuous Communication and Accomplish More of Your Plan

Use “Key Tasks” to Let Your Experts Do What They Do Best

Key Tasks: Those activities the force must perform as a whole to achieve the desired end-state.

Ah, the crux of the matter. Be wary of laundry lists of implied objectives (yes, even the military has run into this problem). To know the difference, consider this scenario:

You’re directing your team to move from Point A to Point B. In the middle lies a river. It’s not necessary to instruct the team to navigate toward the river, find a suitable beachhead, construct a bridge, and cross the river. These sub-steps are implied by the Key Task itself and competent teams don’t need the minutiae outlined on paper to be able to get to the other side.

Using the end-state (more to follow) as the North Star ensures that your team won’t get lost along the way.

When outlining your plan, use the Why/How plan-building method to check your plan for micro-measurements.

Related article: The Only Two Questions You Need to Build Your Strategic Plan

Use “End-State” to Set Expectations About Resource Expenditure

End-State: Desired future conditions of the friendly force in relationship to its desired conditions of the enemy, terrain, and civil considerations.

What’s at the heart of the outcome we’re trying to achieve? If we firmly understand the purpose and effectively execute the key tasks along the way, what will be the final net result of these efforts?

End-State is closely related to your Mission and Vision. No matter what tactics you use to reach your goal, are you fulfilling the intent of your efforts?

As mentioned, this is the guiding light for your team along the way. Done right, there can be no confusion on what the team needs to be working toward.

For example, if your End-State is to increase revenue, you may have an Expanded Purpose of increasing renewals – but if your Key Tasks end up earning your company more new deals instead, you’ve still achieved your End-State goal.

Related article: Being Able to Recite Your Mission and Vision Statements Is More Important Than You Think

Give Your Team the Knowledge and Power to Execute with Intention

I was part of building an automotive startup, and there I had a boss who firmly understood the concept of Commander’s Intent. He would say, “Look, I don’t want to solve this for you here and now, but I’m looking for this particular outcome. It’s not important to me how you get there, but this is what I’m looking for.”

The two main wins here are: 1. You as a manager ensure your focus remains at the proper level, and 2. You empower those on your team to learn and grow.

Related: Software you’ll actually love because it’s made for plan leaders like you

About AchieveIt

AchieveIt is the platform that large organizations use to get their biggest, most important initiatives out of the boardroom and into reality. Too many great ideas never quite make it across the finish line, because there’s no real way to keep everyone on course and keep everything on track. What does it take to actually guide these initiatives all the way through to completion? You’ve got to:

  1. Get everything in view – so you can see what’s happening with every initiative, at every level, from the enterprise to the individual, in real time.
  2. Get everyone engaged – with an easy-to-use platform that connects your organization from the executive leadership to the project teams, keeping everyone accountable and on the same page.
  3. Get every possible advantage – not only because you have the premier platform in this space, but because you can draw on the experience and best practices of our execution experts.

That’s why everyone from global corporations, to regional healthcare systems, to federal agencies have turned to AchieveIt for their Integrated Plan Management. Let’s actually do this.


Engage in Continuous Communication and Accomplish More of Your Plan

By Stuart Childs

Engage in Continuous Communication and Accomplish More of Your Plan

By Stuart Childs

A pivotal piece of any strategic planning software success is the all-important “Onsite Day.” Scheduling a handful of executives and stakeholders to sit in a room for the hours it takes to onboard, train, and implement represents the commitment – both financial and cultural – by both organizations to more thoroughly pursue plan execution. The Onsite Day is the culmination of weeks of work to define, align, and implement a new path forward on the journey to efficient execution. A lot riding on this day, right?

As easy, and often correct, as it is to hail the Onsite Day as the critical juncture by which success and failure can be defined moving forward, there’s also a glaring question that few clients think about beforehand – “What happens after the onsite?”

Maintaining Excitement After Implementation

Suddenly that glorified Onsite Day isn’t the sticking point. You’ve got to worry about what happens once the buildup and excitement of a successful implementation have passed.

The simple solution is: don’t let it.

Obviously, it’s much more difficult than it sounds, but in my experience, world-class organizations keep engagement high across their organization by ensuring key priorities stay top of mind – always.

It’s not enough to just talk about major goals at Onsite Days and townhalls. The most successful companies’ top 3-5 goals are deeply ingrained in the culture of the organization; any employee you stop in the break room could recite those initiatives to you. These companies’ goals are aligned to daily activities and every task supports driving the outcome of one of those major initiatives.

3 Steps to Make Your Key Priorities Part of Your Culture

If you’re one of the organizations described above, bravo! Please stop reading and instead let the rest of us know how you did it.

But, if in all likelihood, you do not identify with that group, there are a number of simple steps you can take to start to move in that direction.

Have a conversation about strategic planning.

Most organizations I work with as an AchieveIt Consultant come into an Onsite Day with the idea that their whole organization has a firm grasp of the strategic direction of the company. The reality is that, more often than not, you’ll get more questions than answers when asking the group to speak to their path forward.

By simply beginning a dialogue around strategic planning, you implicitly involve your team in the process. Ask for their feedback, answer their questions, and create an environment of transparency centered around planning and execution. Just sending an email with an attachment doesn’t count.

Tailor for resonance.

Imagine a salesperson using the same sales materials and talk track for every client regardless of size, industry, market, maturity, etc. Are they successful? Unlikely. An ice cream truck owner doesn’t have the same challenges as Jeff Bezos.

The best presentations are carefully tailored to evoke a response from a specific audience. This is the same approach great leaders take as they enlist their team to execute on initiatives.

Be cognizant of how messages will be perceived at varying levels of the organization. Ask yourself, “What matters to this group?” Then address them accordingly.

By aligning their priorities to the priorities of the organization, you’ve connected the dots they need to know their impact.

Share the why behind the what.

Effective communication involves more than simply sharing instructions and informing the team how you’d like them to proceed. There are reams of data to support the overestimation leaders place on their ability to create buy-in.

As a leader, you have the unfortunate position of constantly being exposed to the inevitable second-guessing present anytime one person has to make a decision that affects others. One simple tactic you can employ is to educate your team on why a particular decision was made – not just the decision itself.

To take it a step further, share all the many things you decided not to do. You chose a particular path for a reason, now inform the team the paths you didn’t choose and why.

By trusting them with sharing your decision-making process, you can guide your stakeholders through the journey you took to get to where you’ve landed, and now you can all proceed forward together. 

Continuous Communication is the Key to a Culture of Commitment to Plan Execution

I recently heard effective communication compared to dental hygiene.

In order to maintain good dental health, you have to a) go to the dentist every 6 months (these are your Onsite Days, implementations, and townhalls), but you also have to b) brush your teeth 2x per day for 2 minutes (reviewing your 3-5 priorities every week with your managers, aligning tasks to overall goals, and easily-accessed dashboards).

Failure to do both will result in cavities and root canals. Little in life is as unpleasant as a physical root canal, but a root canal on your strategic planning process is nearly as bad. By practicing constant communication and employing these 3 strategies, you and your team can keep your strategic execution in good health.


Align Your Culture to Your Strategy

By Stuart Childs

Align Your Culture to Your Strategy

By Stuart Childs

In my line of work, I’ve had the unique opportunity to work with an incredibly diverse set of clients. From large oil & gas manufacturers to single location non-profit health systems, small technical colleges, and even some religiously-affiliated groups – I’ve been able to see how various organizations see the world, along with their differing approaches to strategic execution.

Yet, despite the differences in size, scope, industry, mission, etc., there are two constant and prevailing truths:

  1. Strategic Planning is of Pivotal Importance
  2. A Strong Culture is Key

Both Sides of the Equation: Strategy and Culture

I’ve yet to find anybody who doesn’t agree with these sentiments. My guess is in your organization, strategic planning and culture are championed above all else.

If you’re like most organizations I work with however, these pillars are also treated as a left brain/right brain, 2 sides of the coin, balancing arms of the organizational scale.

Instead of having conversations about Strategy OR Culture, teams today need to stop and consider how their strategic plan aligns with their unique and evolving culture.

Aetna: A Strategy/Culture Alignment Case Study

Recognizing There’s a Problem

Consider insurance behemoth, Aetna. For much of its 150+ year history, Aetna has thrived in the insurance space. The early 2000s, however, were not such a period. Poor acquisitions, outdated and cumbersome processes, and yes, a toxic culture had sunk the company to its knees.

At one point, Aetna was losing $1 million per day. Executives came and went, 4 CEO’s in 5 years, each one touting “culture change” as the key to the turnaround.

Enter John W. Rowe, MD, the man who thought differently about the relationship between strategy and culture. Instead of determining an initial strategy for turnaround, Dr. Rowe took the unique step of submerging himself at various levels of the organization, seeing the company from his employees’ eyes, and trying to better understand what key individuals in the organization were experiencing. Over time, and utilizing a variety of methods, Dr. Rowe uncovered something amazing.

Identifying the Strategy-Culture Disconnect

Aetna’s prevailing strategy had consisted primarily of narrowly managing medical expenses to reduce the cost of claims. This strategy not only alienated two key contributors to Aetna’s success – patients and physicians – but this methodology also flew directly against the cultural winds that made Aetna unique: a deep-seated creed for providing the best possible care.

The divide between employees’ passion for care and the company’s decision to reduce costs was deeper, however, as employees felt they had been robbed of something greater – pride in the company itself. With the focus on reduced costs, employees were not merely frustrated, they were disheartened, even embarrassed. One Aetna employee summed it up saying “I began to dread conversations at cocktail parties, knowing I would have to discuss my work.”

In response, Dr. Rowe made a surprising decision. Instead of continuing to focus on reducing costs to turn Aetna around, he announced a bold new strategy centered around “A New Aetna.”

Crafting “New Aetna”

Moving forward, New Aetna was going to invest heavily in customer service, ensuring quality care was at the core of Aetna’s strategic direction.

To communicate his vision and gain buy-in from the company, Rowe met regularly with leaders in the organization, asking for feedback and speaking in detail about what the turnaround would entail. Rowe was careful, not to define “leader” by rank only, but also included individuals with charisma and influence in the company, knowing their support was vital.

What Dr. Rowe understood was simple; any strategy that flew directly against the culture of Aetna was doomed to fail. Speaking at a town hall meeting, Dr. Rowe summed it up as, “Well I guess [the New Aetna is] really all about putting the pride back in Aetna”.

Put the Pride Back in Your Organization

While Aetna’s turnaround can be attributed to a number of different forces, it’s impossible to ignore the importance of picking strategies that are aligned with the culture of your organization. This does not mean that every decision must be a popular one, rather than selecting a strategy must be done with an eye towards whether your employees can rally behind it.

Here’s a checklist and a list of suggested next steps to deliver your “New Organization:”

  • Do you have formal cultural pillars? Check that your strategic initiatives are in line with your overall company promise.
  • Do you have informal cultural pillars? When was the last time you had lunch with a non-direct-report team member? You can learn something about the unwritten ground-level culture by having candid conversations with employees. Take back what you learned and check your strategy again – do they align?
  • How did you build your strategic plan? Did you only gain input from your executive team? Did your executive leaders talk to any of their work producers to get their input? In building your next plan, try getting a mixed group of leadership levels in the room to get perspectives from the ground-up.
  • Have you communicated your plan roll-out? If you’re dictating your company initiatives a la reading off tablets from on high, your plan becomes more austere with every global Town Hall webinar. Connect your plan to your people by explaining how your organization’s overall initiatives impact each department and level specifically.
  • Who are your agents of change? Like Dr. Rowe, leverage your influential employees at every level of the organization to help drive strategy execution. Identify them early on and check in regularly to help create buy-in and understanding within the places you can’t personally reach.



Implementation is Just the Beginning of Transformation

By Stuart Childs

Implementation is Just the Beginning of Transformation

By Stuart Childs

Implementing a new software or business process to drive change can be like buying an expensive piece of home workout equipment.

There’s the excited anticipation of this shiny new machine and visions of a fitter, leaner future you. The day it arrives, there’s the relieved joy that “it’s here!” It’s real and it is wonderful. Change is right around the corner.

Quickly though, reality sinks in, other priorities take precedence, and all-too-often that matte-black monument of physical fitness ends up holding dust and dirty clothes after a few lackluster months.

You had the tool, sure, but without a systematic process of accountability, that fitter, leaner future you never came to be.

The Challenge of Change: Sustainability

My experience at AchieveIt has shown me just how prevalent this phenomenon is in the business world. Most of my clients have been through multiple software implementations in the past, spending many thousands of dollars and countless hours in the process. These change management strategies fail, ultimately, because organizations underestimate the role culture plays in their ability to create, and – more importantly – sustain change.

When considering the challenge of change it’s easy to see why organizations spend more of their time focusing on operational excellence software than they do on the cultural elements that exist in their business units.

Managing the software implementation is clean. It’s simple. It’s finite.

I’ve got bad news. Change management is messy. It’s nonlinear. It takes focused patience.

Short-term goals are great, but they’re not your endpoint. Implementing a new way of thinking is necessary to get the change management ball rolling, but it can be overwhelming to take on the underlying cultural shift that must be maintained over time.

Luckily, I’ve uncovered with my clients four best practices that help make the prolonged work of business transformation more manageable, relatable, and ultimately effective.

Make Work Manageable

Implementation-based solutions appeal to the same fundamental psychology that makes diets and New Year’s resolutions so popular: they make work manageable.

Nobody would fondly envision a lifetime of forgoing sweets, but everybody can see themselves completing a 30-day diet. And yet, history is littered with fad dietary cleanses and failed resolutions. They’re manageable and measurable, but they don’t create lasting change.

Short-term strategies are doomed, at least in terms of achieving lasting impact, from their onset. By attempting to solve a long-term problem with the productivity trend of the day, leaders look for a solution that enables them to check a box while simultaneously avoiding the hard conversation about what transformation really means – discipline.

Treat Software as a Catalyst for Transformation – Not the Solution

Taking a step back to analyze these personal and business scenarios, it’s clear to see the misalignment between strategy and the desired result.

I want to be a healthier person for the rest of my life. Ok- I’ll take on a 30-day dietary challenge.

I would like to see my organization execute at a higher level. Great- let’s implement the latest operational excellence software. I think we can complete that by Q3.

In both situations, there’s a long-reaching desired state with a solution that lasts for just a small fraction of that time.

Neither of these events is in itself a bad idea. In fact, quite the opposite, they’re necessary to the overall development necessary to sustain change.

The difference comes in viewing these short-term projects as catalysts instead of as completion.

Each action – a short-term diet goal or a new process implementation – should serve as a jumping-off point for the rest of your transformation. They spark excitement and demand focus, but it’s up to strong leaders to maintain change after the implementation.

Culture is Your Secret Driver

Effective leaders recognize that the initial implementation process is a crucial piece of managing change across their organizations. They also recognize, however, that the true work begins post-implementation, championing the desired activities that will drive sustainable change. By doing so they alter their organizational culture until the change is as familiar and routine to their teams as their morning commute.

The good news is that even culture change can be broken down into manageable pieces of work. Of course, sustaining that culture will involve a high level of EQ – consistent listening, anticipating roadblocks, and cheerleading. While there are many different flavors of change management, here are 4 effective strategies you can incorporate today in order to give your transformative initiatives more staying power.

1. “Unbox” Strategy

Far too often I see clients who have developed a broad corporate strategy, meant to span business silos and connect the organization across multiple initiatives. They create that plan, however, in a silo.

Leaders need to invite their team to be part of the strategic development process, not just assume their buy-in. Move strategy out of the executive suite (“the box”) and get direct input from your team. You’ll likely uncover useful information, and you can be sure your team will be better motivated to execute your plans.

2. Exceed Alignment, Create a Mission

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest path to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

Indeed, the importance of aligning strategies and tactics has been written about since (at least) 500 BC. Even if you have a well-aligned plan, too often the work stops at emailing the plan to the team.

While speaking to the team is an important first step, best-in-class organizations go beyond merely communicating responsibility. It may seem like a subtle difference, but my most successful clients take the time to explain to their teams how and why those responsibilities are critically important to the organization.

  1.  Here’s how your responsibility fits into the overall plan.
  2. Here’s what I need from you, by when, and how we will measure it.
  3.  And this is why it’s critically important.

Taking the time to create a sense of purpose
within your team will take your well-aligned plan to the next level.

3. Create Focus and Discipline 

Most organizations do a fairly good job of conducting quarterly status meetings to better understand how their teams are progressing toward their business plan.

But what about the in-between time? If the organization’s goals are truly the direction in which the company wants to be headed, then isn’t it worth taking 3-60 minutes 2x/month to discuss strategy?

Taking a few minutes more often, at a regular cadence to discuss strategy with your team not only keeps their responsibilities top of mind, but helps to further ingrain the importance of plan execution at every level.

4. Place Multiple Motivational Bets 

In his book, Stacking the Deck, former Charles Schwab CEO David Pottruck outlines his organizational change management theory. To paraphrase, he defines the general workforce into 3 categories and their acceptance of change:

5% of the team will welcome the change and embrace it enthusiastically.

15% of the organization never will – no matter what.

And that leaves 80% of the company who can be leaders or detractors depending on which of the other 2 groups resonates with them more.

Your job as a leader is to capture the 80% and empower them to be change agents within the organization. Some will respond to competition, others want to be publicly recognized. Some fear individual failure in their role. Your goal should be to employ as many of these methodologies as possible until your team is pulling in the same direction, regardless of what stimuli it takes to create the response.

The Heart of Transformation is in True Cultural Change

Software and new business processes are necessary to kick off change in your organization. But they’re not long-term solutions. They produce a rallying point that stimulates excitement around a strong vision, but true change is rooted in culture that is created at the top.

Start with these 4 tips: 1) Gain input from all levels early on; 2) Fully communicate alignment for essential buy-in; 3) Commit all resources to your most important goals by analyzing early and often; and 4) Use your employees as your best agents of change.

Bonus – having a reporting platform and execution consultant team that helps you build that culture of commitment will only amplify your efforts.